Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: The Victims of the NFL's Overprotective QB Rules

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 26, 2018

Miami Dolphins defensive end William Hayes (95) is helped on the field after a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Teams and players push back against the NFL's nonsensical new roughing-the-passer rule. The 49ers fill their QB vacancy with...whom? The Steelers rethink their Le'Veon strategy. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

        

1. Linemen are expendable in NFL's safety war

If you were stunned and outraged by what happened to veteran Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes on Sunday, you are not alone.

Hayes was injured while doing what looked like yoga moves to avoid putting his body weight on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. You can clearly see on the play that Hayes shifted his body weight to comply with the NFL's new and absurd roughing-the-passer rule. As he twisted his body, his knee bent awkwardly, and he tore his ACL.

Miami head coach Adam Gase on Monday revealed the extent of the injury and confirmed the reason for Hayes' contortion act:

Others across the league expressed similar views—not just on that play, but on the rule in general and how it's impacting defensive play.

The backlash is not limited to the players affected. Several team officials tell me that a significant number of teams have complained to the league office and the competition committee about the rule.

Even members of management and ownership are apparently up in arms. Mark Maske of the Washington Post wrote that the competition committee wants the rule applied differently by game officials. And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday that the rule has altered the NFL "as much as any one [rule] I have seen make a change from our past."

That's a remarkable statement since Jones has owned his team since 1989.

The argument teams are making—both publicly and privately—is that the rule is having an undue impact on games, first, but also that it's dangerous. A 300-pound dude, running at full speed, can't twist and contort in midair without putting his body at risk. That's what happened to Hayes.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Jim Schwartz, the defense coordinator for the Eagles, nicely summed up the near-impossible task defenders face with this new rule. He emphasized something that is rarely discussed in this debate: the ever increasing speed, power and evasiveness of running quarterbacks.

"Again, you talk about a difficult thing, you got guys that are fighting 300-pound offensive lineman trying to get to the quarterback," Schwartz said, according to a team transcript. "Not sure if the quarterback is going to get rid of the ball, not sure if he's not.

"We have an increase of scrambling quarterbacks, strong scrambling quarterbacks, that we have seen them get out of our grasp before. You got to tackle them, but then you have to tackle them and make sure you don't land your weight on them.

"It's the only player that we have that for. That's not our job to make the rules. It's our job to try to figure out a way to play around them. I don't know that it can always be done. I think you can work to do it, you can try to spin out of your tackle, you can try to keep your weight from landing on a quarterback, but it's not always going to be possible."

All of this just reinforces a notion that even as the NFL does everything within its power to protect quarterbacks, it remains willing to sacrifice the health and safety of interior linemen, especially defensive ones. They become the forgotten players in the NFL's "safety push."

Former offensive lineman and current NFL analyst Geoff Schwartz told me he doesn't necessarily think "forgotten" is the right word, because there are of course stars, like the Rams' Aaron Donald, who are highly paid. But he added, "I think if you're looking at the totality of the team, then, yes, interior linemen are forgotten."

Maybe the word we're looking for is disposable.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 16:  Defensive end William Hayes #95 of the Miami Dolphins takes a moment before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Ima
Michael Owens/Getty Images

Interior defensive players have long been viewed as drones by the NFL—players who can be easily replaced. Now, that's truer than ever, as quarterback salaries escalate into the stratosphere and the league bends over backward (but carefully, so as to not put too much weight on anything) to protect those expenditures.

Little else matters. If a lineman blows out his knee contorting like Mr. Fantastic, then, well, too bad.

After all, they're just linemen.

Who cares?

                   

2. The truth

In a series of tweets earlier this month, Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner (either intentionally or unintentionally) laid out perfectly the real reason for the new roughing-the-passer rules: It's about generating more offense, not player safety.

Warner elaborated on his thoughts in later posts, and he's of course correct. More offense for the league creates more interest and, in turn, more money.

If the NFL truly wanted to create a safer game, it would eliminate Thursday night contests, which players hate because they happen too soon after a Sunday game, when players' bodies are still healing.

No, the rules aren't as much about player safety as they are two other words: cash money.

        

3. 'My fault, Ben'

Jason Behnken/Associated Press

One last thing on the new protection rules for quarterbacks. Most of the moments where networks mic players during games are worthless. But that wasn't the case Monday night.

ESPN wired Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and it revealed a telling moment.

As McCoy was in the process of hitting Ben Roethlisberger, he apologized to the Steelers quarterback.

Again, as he was hitting Roethlisberger.

"My fault, Ben," he said.

I've never heard of a player apologizing mid-hit. And of course, even though the hit was clean, McCoy was flagged.

These are strange times in the NFL.

                    

4. 49ers fooling themselves

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Now that the 49ers have lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL, this would be the perfect time to sign Colin Kaepernick. The team's quarterbacks are C.J. Beathard (who is terrible) and Nick Mullens, who is moving up from the practice squad. The 49ers are scheduled to work out a plethora of stiffs, bums and has-beens.

The 49ers, in one fell swoop, could hamper Kaepernick's collusion case against the league and help themselves.

Right?

RIGHT?

"I made that decision [to not pursue Kaepernick] because of the style of offense we wanted to go with," coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Monday. "That's kind of what I said last year. It's the same situation now. I always look into what style of offense I want to do, what style of offense we've been doing for the last two years.

"When you start to get to these quarterbacks we're talking about, C.J.'s our guy and we have Nick Mullens backing him up. When you get into a third or fourth guy, whoever that is, you'd like to bring in guys who you felt you didn't have to change much of your offense for."

That's a long-winded way of saying the 49ers are going 3-13 this year.

               

5. Bucs' decision to keep starting Ryan Fitzpatrick is an easy one

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers waves to the crowd after they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-21 at Raymond James Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Jameis Winston is eligible to play this week as he returns from a three-game suspension for allegedly groping an Uber driver.

Though Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions against the Steelers on Monday night, the team's choice between Fitzpatrick and Winston was still an easy one.

It's only a matter of time before Fitzpatrick morphs back into the journeyman Fitzpatrick, but that hasn't totally happened so far. He is still playing better than Winston ever has, and it's not even close.

They'll likely stick with Fitzpatrick as long as possible. He's simply a better fit. It sounds weird to say this about a player who has been so bad historically, but he's Tampa's best option. For now.

              

6. Steelers want to keep Le'Veon Bell...for now

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 02:  Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl LII Radio Row at the Mall of America on February 2, 2018 in Bloomington, Minnesota.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

It's true that the Steelers are listening to trade offers for Le'Veon Bell. What's also true, I'm told by league sources, is that they don't really want to get rid of him. They still hope to get him into the facility and onto the field soon.

It would take a blockbuster deal for them to trade him, and so far no team has offered that.

Not yet, at least. That could change.

For the moment, though, the Steelers remain hopeful they can get him back.

                     

7. Still no Dez

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31:  Wide receiver Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during warmups before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 31, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell L
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I knew that Dez Bryant wouldn't land on a roster quickly once he left the Cowboys, but I didn't think it would go this far into the season. No one did.

This is still a highly playable receiver.

The reason Bryant isn't on a team? I honestly don't know. There are numerous theories, and the main one is that he is simply being choosy about where he wants to play. Some teams tell me Bryant wants to play for a team with a shot at a Super Bowl.

Until he finds one, we all wait.

                 

8.  Why Antonio Brown is worth the headache

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his 27 yard touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 24, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Another good stat from ESPN Stats & Info:

Stallworth is in the Hall of Fame. Ward should be in the Hall of Fame.

Brown is just 24 touchdowns shy of Ward at 30 years old, and since 2014, he has 13, 10, 12 and 9 touchdowns. He's got a solid chance to pass Ward.

This is why the Steelers sometimes put up with Brown's antics, like skipping practice Monday as he did. They do it because he's too damn good to keep off the field.

               

9. What to make of the Dolphins?

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 23: Senorise Perry #34, Jakeem Grant #19, Albert Wilson #15 and Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins celebrate a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Bro
Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Dolphins are 3-0, but their wins have come against the Titans, Jets and Raiders—not exactly the Eagles, Patriots and Steelers. They play at New England this week, and that will go a long way toward determining how real they are.

I can tell you there are a substantial number of Dolphins doubters around the league. The reality is, though, that we have no clue. This is a team that last year started 4-2 and lost eight of its last 10. Two years ago, the Dolphins started 1-4 but won nine of their final 11 to make the postseason.

In many ways, the Dolphins should be the face of this unusual season, where the Browns are solid and Fitzpatrick is a star. They're right up there as one of the league's great surprises so far.

                   

10. History

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 10:  NBC Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Andrea Kremer reports from the field before an NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Ste
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Please allow me to end on a personal note about one of the best sports journalists of all time, who also happens to be a close friend.

Few people I've ever known, in any walk of life, have worked as hard and been as good at their jobs as Andrea Kremer, who now works at HBO and NFL Network. She's been one of the standards a lot of us have measured ourselves by, and she's again setting the bar high.

Kremer will pair with Hannah Storm to form the first all-woman NFL broadcast team. The two will work 11 Thursday games on Amazon Prime, starting this week with Vikings-Rams.

It's a great moment for someone who has more than earned it.

             

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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